Kevin Hunt put the lessons he's learned in 25 years as a physiotherapist into a unique book on pain
Physiotherapist Kevin Hunt’s first book – tackling the topic of how to respond to persistent pain – is published next week (12 May). In an exclusive and fascinating PhysioUpdate article, Kevin answers a series of questions posed by editor Ian A McMillan
What prompted you to write a book on dealing with pain and is it your first?
Yes, Pain: The ultimate mentor is my first book, and possibly my last – but who knows? I’ve had this book or some version of it floating around in my head for years and, in many ways, I just needed to get it out and organise those thoughts in a coherent way.
In my clinical practice over the last 25 years, I have come to understand that pain is a protective system trying to guide and mentor us towards sustainable health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the majority of people fear pain and often end up with unhelpful behaviours, inadequate treatments and a deteriorating quality of life. With this book, I hope to change people’s attitudes towards pain and help those suffering with persistent pain to understand how pain works, why it behaves the way it does and how they can use pain as a mentor towards a better, more sustainable quality of life.
As physios we understand that persistent pain isn’t simple. It requires a deeper knowledge and a willingness to be challenged in your thinking to change things. Although patients listen to what we say, they can’t always digest that information within their appointments. I wanted a tool that I could use that would help patients to explore some of the factors that influence their pain system at their own pace and could then come back to me with questions so we can work together on the solutions.
I’m sure like many other physios I get really bored of listening to people I’d meet in general life who wanted to tell me their fixed narrative about their ‘bad back’ and expected a magic solution in a 10-minute conversation. I also wanted somewhere I could point them to and say, ‘It’s not as simple as all that. If you do what to understand things better, have a read of the book. Hopefully, it will raise some questions for you. If it does and you want to do something about it, then let’s do it properly.’
Tell us three key messages contained in the book
- pain is the solution, not the problem
- pain is your ultimate mentor designed to protect you from the world around you and from yourself. Although it can be a blunt tool, pain is there to grab your attention. The book explains what it is you need to pay attention to
- the concept of the ‘health hexagon’ outlined in the book and how it relates to the pain pathway is a simple template we can use with our patients with persistent pain to help them change their future
How can we find out more and order a copy?
I’ve created a webpage where you’ll find links to the book in various formats and, of course, you can get it on Amazon. You can also go to your favourite book shop and ask them to order in a copy if they don’t stock it.
The process of writing the book allowed me to understand things at a deeper level, forced me to carry out the research to make sense of the complexities of persistent pain and enabled me to put all of that into a digestible format
What is your ‘day job and tell us some key milestones your career path?
I got my physio degree from University College Dublin in 1998 and then a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine from Nottingham University in 2003. Since 2006, I’ve run my only clinic – Spinal Physio in Cambridge – where I see an increasing amount of persistent pain.
Cambridge is a wonderful city with plenty of high achievers who are often very driven and trying to juggle careers, families and the enormous expectations they put on themselves. I see plenty of them but also those who aren’t the high achievers that Cambridge is renowned for but who are equally juggling complex lives. Pain steps in to let them know that the way they are going about things isn’t sustainable. I try to help them see the link between these things and reorganise their 'health hexagon' so they can pursue their aims without it being so painful along the way.
In my career I’ve been very fortunate to work in three countries – Ireland, the UK and Australia – across various sectors, from public and private practice, industry, education and elite sport. My work in horse racing (which I plan to write about in a future article for PhysioUpdate) taught me more about pain and what the body can cope with than any course I had been on or any book I had read. That got me interested in questioning what I understood and had been taught about pain. The book really is everything I’ve learned since.
How do you find the time to write and what advice would you give colleagues with writing ambitions?
The Covid-19 pandemic gave me the time to write. When we went into lockdown, I knew I’d need something constructive to give me some order in the chaos. I got a scrap of paper and wrote on it the things I wanted to do in lockdown. First on the list was ‘write the book’, so I made a start. It’s taken three years to complete but it’s been a great learning curve.
Going through the process of writing the book allowed me to understand things at a deeper level, forced me to carry out the research to make sense of the complexities of persistent pain and enabled me to put all of that into a digestible format for myself and the reader. None of it ever really felt like work as I was passionate about doing it.
I did of course have to put some structure in place. I set aside an hour a day to write, often before I’d take the kids to school. An hour a day adds up over time. I got help from professionals. I had no idea you needed two editors, a proof-reader, a typesetter, a cover designer and an illustrator to write a book and they all need to be different people. They whipped a rambling first draft into something coherent and I’d like to think that, after numerous edits, we have something very readable. My advice would be: 'just write'. The book you end up writing will not be the book you started writing but that’s a good thing. You’ll hopefully get something better than you thought.
Juggling work, family, writing and everything else is, in many ways, what the book is all about. I live by the concepts within the book of the ‘health hexagon’ as the science tells me that’s essential. The rest takes care of itself.
What’s next for you?
The wonderful thing is, I don’t know what's next. I never have had any grand career design. I never thought I’d work at the Grand National or the Olympic Games. I never thought I’d have my own clinic or write a book. I never thought I’d be a grown up, but I guess I am! All I do know is that I need a project. Who knows where the next chapter of my own life will go but I’m open to possibilities.
Website: Spinal HealthAuthor: Edited by Ian A McMillan